Sellwood Moreland Improvement League

Portland Fire Bureau seeks to train more disaster volunteers

Feb 07, 2002

A featured speaker at the SMILE General Public Meeting on Wednesday evening, February 6, was Rachel Jacky, the Community Emergency Services Manager for the Portland Fire Bureau. She appeared to discuss the need for residents to be well prepared for emergencies and disasters. The primary disaster danger we currently face is earthquake.

Jacky explained that until recently, the Northwest was thought to be relatively immune to earthquakes, but lately clear evidence has emerged to show that enormous subduction earthquakes occur off the coast, in the area of the Juan de Fuca continental plate, every 300 to 400 years. Since the last one occurred 302 years ago, we are within the aperture of risk. She explained, too, that subduction earthquakes are the most enormous, and they shake for the longest period of time, of any earthquakes. The last such on the West Coast was in and near Anchorage, Alaska, in 1964, and it shook for over four minutes. There were major changes in the landscape and enormous destruction.

In addition, Portland has three local faults running diagonally southeast through the city, and the most worrisome of them is the West Hills fault, which crosses the Willamette River at Ross Island, and extends through the Sellwood-Moreland and Ardenwald neighborhoods before terminating near Oregon City. It actually passes right through the middle of the intersection of S.E. Bybee Boulevard and 17th Avenue.

Earthquake is not the only danger, though. Portland is considered at risk for every major disaster recognized by FEMA, except possibly tornadoes. (Jacky added that, for those worried about terrorist acts here, we seem to be more at risk from earthquakes than from terrorism currently.)

When disaster strikes, all public agencies and utilities will be overwhelmed. By established priorities, firefighters will first respond to hospitals and airports, as well as to locations where the most lives appear to be at risk.

That means that citizens are left to handle 80% of the incidents in the critical first hours, including rescues, medical interventions, and disrupted utilities. Many citizens are hurt themselves while doing this work, because their good intentions are not supported by training; citizens need to know what to do and how to do it.

For the last seven years, Portland has been one of three U.S. cities developing "Neighborhood Emergency Teams" and "Community Emergency Response Teams". This program, inaugurated by Los Angeles and San Francisco, is now recognized nationally by FEMA. 800 active team members have been trained in Portland so far; but the city wants at least 20 in each of its 94 neighborhoods. Five people are certified, so far, in Sellwood and Westmoreland.

The training offered includes "home and work preparedness": The preparation and use of emergency kits, fire extinguishers, dealing with interrupted utilities and communications, field-expedient first aid training, urban search and rescue, evaluation of structure integrity and the extrication of victims, and physical and emotional trauma intervention.

The next round of training will take place in mid-March, and registration is now being accepted for the Wednesday evening or Saturday morning training sessions, to be conducted by the Fire Bureau. For information, contact Rachel Jacky at 503/823-4614.

Portland, Oregon 97202

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